Data has already become central to the popular narrative of the future of nonprofits. Unfortunately, many organizations are stumbling into working with data without direction, driven by peer pressure rather than a clear description of what they need to learn to have data help their work in the social good sector. Often organizations don’t consider the data they are already generating as an asset. Becoming a data-informed nonprofit is a challenge of culture, not technology. We want to tailor our data literacy tools to help change this culture to fit the needs of nonprofits with a particular focus on supporting and building capacity in the staff who do not yet feel comfortable “speaking data”.
DataBasic.io is a suite of learning focused tools to introduce fundamental concepts, terminology, and processes for working with data in engaging ways. Our existing audience includes nonprofit leadership and staff. We want to customize the tools and activities to help them use digital data more effectively. We will run workshops, alter the tools, and produce activity guides to create a simple toolkit that nonprofit staff can use themselves to build data literacy within their organizations.
Jon Elbaz presented the Data Culture project at the Data on Purpose conference at Stanford University in February 2018.
Data is siloed in many nonprofit organizations. The responsibility for collecting and managing data sits in IT or Monitoring & Evaluation or occasionally in Marketing. For this reason, nonprofits often don’t recognize the data that they already have on hand and believe that they need to embark on new collection projects, buy expensive tools, or invest in highly technical trainings.
Before taking those steps, we first advocate for creating a data culture. Almost all of the organizations in our cohort reflected positively on the value of bringing people together across silos of organizational structure and technical ability. Learning about data was often accomplished in dialogue with each other and with the simple, creative activities that we provided.
That said, organizations need to use the Data Culture Project as appropriate for their existing organizational culture. For some, that meant incorporating their own data into the exercises. For others, that meant being strategic about who they invited to their learning sessions.
Since the March 2018 launch of the Data Culture Project hub, website usage has roughly doubled and 250 people have joined the group listserv. We plan to build that community into a testing group for new activities that will inform future online curriculum in the coming year. In addition, we are writing about and presenting this work to industry and academic audiences.